Thank God, there was a bat mitzvah this morning. Synagogues across the world were filled beyond their weekly Shabbat attendance and mine, Temple Beth Am of Margate, Florida, was no exception with 300 worshippers, Jews and others, filling our Sanctuary.
I expected this Shabbat would be emotional as we grieve with the Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh, from this inconceivable and tragic loss of exactly one week ago. The only question was how raw it would feel.
As I neared the entrance to our shul, there was our armed security guard, Paul, at his normal post, with his ever-present smile as he always proudly says “Good Shabbos!” This morning I hugged him as he opened the door for me. Tears started.
As the Shacharit Kedusha was being recited, I waited with several others in the lobby for the right time for us to walk in. Jeff, our weekly Shabbat morning usher, greeted me and said, “How’s your week been?” More tears.
I walked toward my usual seat and realized how full the sanctuary was, many familiar faces and many not known to me, most with grim faces. During the service, we recited the Misheberach Prayer for the Sick, hoping our prayers will add to the recovery of those injured in Pittsburgh. Then our weekly prayer was recited for Soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces and the United States Military, knowing that these individuals, around the world, protect us. The Misheberach for our synagogues and others was added, especially for Tree of Life Synagogue. More tears.
And then miraculously this beautiful 13-year-old girl, Skylar stood in the middle of the bima, next to the rabbi, my husband, and the shaliach tzibur, the leader of our services. Skylar was the perfect vision of an adorable young girl, about to be become an adult member of the Jewish community. Yet I wondered how she would think of her special day, so entwined with sadness for Pittsburgh. I still remember the bat mitzvah I attended the Shabbat after President Kennedy was assassinated, wondering how that 13-year-old managed to recite her prayers and deliver her speech. I didn’t know her well enough to ever ask her about it later.
The Torah portion of Chaye Sarah was poignant as it spoke about the death of the beloved wife of Abraham, how he went to great lengths to find an appropriate burial site for her, which he would join in coming years. Skylar’s (very long) Haftorah, describes a declining King David and how one of his sons acts to assume leadership as King, even while David is still alive. Neither of these narratives are uplifting and only lent to the sadness that was evident in shul. . .
Until — we threw candy at Skylar, as she completed all that was required for her to now be recognized as a Jewish woman.
Throwing this candy was an act of defiance, not to give in to hopelessness, continual anti-Semitism and violence.
Throwing this candy strengthened us and forced us to believe that life goes on, that we will be with each other in happy as well as grim times like now.
Throwing this candy was reclaiming who we are — proud Jewish people with a 5,000 year history, some filled with pain and much filled with joy.
The uncollected candy remained on the bima for the duration of the service. It might have helped to dry our tears – for now.